Once, Italian merchants were on their own looking for markets to sell their goods. Today, the Italian Trade Commission facilitates commerce between Italian businesses and the U.S., among other countries, sending buyers, and journalists like myself throughout its twenty regions to explore products for export to an American public that is dazzled by the stroke of that fine Italian hand. My mission on a recent trip to the Mostra Internazionale dell’Artigianato (78th International Handicrafts Trade Fair) in Florence, sponsored by the I.T.C., was to ply the stalls of Italian food and wine producers coming from all over Italy for exceptional traditional and new products alike. What I found was a stunning variety of artisanal foods of astonishing imagination and quality, by-products of a people with an intimate and a centuries-old connection to working the land. This post will be an overview of the exhibition to spotlight some of the foods and artisans who make them, mostly through photographs by my husband and collaborator, Nathan Hoyt, with my comments. Subsequent articles about specific artisans and their products will follow, both on this site, and in my column in Zester Daily, to which I will provide links.
The Duomo, Florence. Brunelleschi’s dome in the background. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
At the Piazza del Duomo. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Journalists and buyers from around the world attended the 78th show of artisanal products in Florence, Italy this year. Representing the U.S., myself, in pink; Paolo Doino to my right; Frances Mercado from Gustiamo, second from right; Greg Patent, right; Marlena Spieler, wearing green; Franco Gallo, missing. Nathan Hoyt, second from left. Credit: Firenze Fiera
Salumi producers from Lazio, a region with a lusty cuisine and strong opinions about food and wine. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Discriminating buyer, Franco Gallo of Panorama International, San Francisco, with the Morelli pork salumi artisans. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Looking at the impressive range of artisanal foods available at Florence Unicoop supermarket’s pavillion at the fair with expert buyer, Paolo Doino of ItalCibus, Miami. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Asking the master pastaia from Pastificcio Vignola, Emilia-Romagna, how she forms the stuffed pasta for production. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Tortellini are formed by machine, the larger cappellacci, by hand. The dough consists of nothing but 00 flour and whole eggs, resulting in a porous but pliable pasta that doesn’t stick to the machine. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Artisan pecorino (sheep cheese) from Sardinia is the pastoral island’s biggest export. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Sardinia’s famous sheep cheeses, primo sale (first salting, foreground), semi staggionato (partially aged, center), staggionato (aged, background). Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Alessandro Pintadu from Tula, Sardinia, specializes in honey and fruit preserves at Azienda Agricola Areste. We’re eating their unusual, exceptionally tart lemon preserves by the spoonfuls! Credit: Nathan Hoyt
The Mediterranean’s garden island, Sardinia, in a jar.
It’s a family affair. Owner Daniela’s father, Giuseppe Scarpellino minds the marmellate.
The Sards are masters of bread. Focaccia at the Sardinia stall. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Slab pancetta from Sardinia, spicier than expected, gorgeous on that flat bread. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
A world of Puglia’s taralli, delectable crunchy cracker knots made with the region’s own wheat and extra-virgin olive oil, baked in wood-fired ovens. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
The classic fennel or hot pepper varieties and a plethora of new flavors, sweet and savory. Photo: Nathan Hoyt
More bread from Puglia, land of wheat and olives. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
A vendor selling porcini from Italy and Eastern Europe tells us the Italian mushrooms are incomparable in flavor. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Potent Tuscan porcini, rich and meaty with ample white flesh, examples of the best. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Stupendous salumi from Calabria are cut on a manual vintage slicer made in 1949. Prosciutto samples, anyone? ItalCibus buyer Paolo Doino, right, his niece, Flavia, at left, along to learn. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Salumi sliced by manual machine keeps the taste and mouth feel of the meat intact in comparison to modern electric slicers, whose heat slightly cooks the meat. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
An explosion of umami, sensational Gorgonzola dolce (fresh, creamy Gorgonzola) blended with fresh white truffle, arguably the most astonishing of all the dizzying delights of the show. Cheese from Lombardy, truffles from Piemonte. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Is it possible that I’ve never eaten anything this delicious? Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Arrivederci, Mostra Internazionale di Artigianato and four days of delicious eating, fascinating craftsmanship. Grazie Taste Real Italy and the Italian Trade Commission for new insights on extraordinary Italian artisan culture. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
The American love affair with Italian food has only just begun. Merchants and storytellers have always spread food cultures abroad, and they still do. There is so much more to discover and report. Stay tuned.
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Wonderful write-up, Julia, and kudos to your delicious photos, Nat. I was right there with you, and the photos brought everything alive again. Mille grazie a tutte due.
It was a terrific team oF journalists and buyers, great energy!
You have so much fun! Would have loved to join you on this tour! Everything looks amazing! What no Sardinian cheese with worms….yes, I know, they are not “allowed” to sell it! It’s so hard to tear oneself away from so many wonderful things…love the photos! I would be very interested in the gorgonzola dolce and white truffles, sounds incredible!
No, that cheese wasn’t at the show, Phyllis! I’m grateful my husband loves both food and photography, and takes great pictures. They enable me to draw you all in. I will be organizing tours again and will post any news about that here. Hope to meet you in person one of these days!
This is my dream vacation, Julia! It’s funny, but for some women it’s jewelry stores. For me, it’s the food markets. I love to try new foods, and every time Bart and I pass a new food purveyor or go to the Italian Market he knows he must steel himself for a marathon shopping session. If he ever complains about the amount of time I spend in the food shops talking to vendors and checking out new products, I always say “Look at the bright side honey, I could be a jewelry freak.” That always calms him down! I enjoy writing about new food items I try, and I particularly enjoy introducing others to the glory that is the world of food items manufactured in Italy. I look forward to reading about your “finds.”
I promise I won’t disappoint you!
What an amazing experience Julia! My heart is still palpitating after seeing all your photos! More please…
Thank you, Laney. More to come.
Julia, this is great! As Greg said, it brought everything right back to life. Nat! Great photography!
It was so good to meet you after 50 years, Frances, so much fun to be there with you.